Associate Feature: Further and faster to address climate change
For me this time of year has two connotations: kicking through leaves on a crisp autumnal walk and the major political parties’ annual conferences. When you think about it there is a link - it’s all about seasonal cycles.
Of course, this year’s SNP conferences (September and November) take place virtually in a differing approach to those south of the border. To some degree this choice reflects the contrast between the nations and the desire to focus on what is right for Scotland at any given time.
The same could be said for Scotland’s approach to climate change. In just a few weeks world leaders will gather in Glasgow for the UN Climate Change Conference, COP 26. In Nicola Sturgeon’s September conference speech she noted this as “…the world’s best chance - probably our last chance - to limit global warming to 1.5°C in line with the Paris Agreement.”
Scotland has announced ambitious targets to lead the way in greening the UK. By 2030, the aim is to generate 50% of all energy used from renewables with 2050 the deadline for decarbonising the Scottish energy system completely.
In a similar vein, plans have been announced to tackle the railway network with a 2035 target enshrined in law. Trains are already low carbon forms of transport. It’s a fact that taking a train rather than a car helps to reduce emissions; it’s also true that electric trains should be the mode of choice if we are serious about making a difference. The difficulty is that it’s not always possible.
Scotland has a unique terrain. It’s what makes the country wild and beautiful. It also means relying on ‘dirty diesels’ on unelectrified stretches of the railway.
If we are serious about hitting targets this has to stop. We’ve got to replace those diesel trains and we’ve got to look seriously at electrification plans and alternative fuel sources.
Once again, Scotland is ahead in many of these areas. But viewing the railway as a whole system, including trains, track and signalling, and considering the latest innovations to electrify routes quickly and efficiently is essential. We need to maximise the reach of electric trains and if we can’t do this we need alternative technologies to limit emissions.
The Scottish government’s decarbonisation plans already include greener new trains for the West Highland lines, the Far North and Kyle of Lochalsh lines. But we can do more.
There are additional railway lines where partial electrification, using green bi-mode trains, could be used. The Fife Circle, the Borders Railway and East Kilbride services are already highlighted to benefit from either full or discontinuous electrification. Taking this further both the Highland Mainline and Aberdeen Mainline would benefit from discontinuous electrification and bi-mode trains as a pre-cursor to full electrification.
And of course we should address that ‘first mile to the last’ conundrum.
It’s human nature to choose the easiest option, we must make the choice to take public transport a no brainer. This means making it easier to plan a journey in one place, from door to door, and then making it cheaper. It can’t be right that it costs less to fly from one end of the UK to the other than take the train. This needs to be addressed.
We hear the term ‘further and faster’ a lot. Speeding up decarbonisation plans has to be the priority for our planet’s future.
Now I’m not a big fan of protestors blocking roads to raise the profile of insulating homes. It’s not their message, it’s their method. Anything that endangers lives, delays emergency services and means vehicles sit there with their engines running for longer (creating more emissions) is not OK. But I’m absolutely focused on the need to work at speed. Major electrification programmes take a long time and the cycle for new trains design, bid and delivery is 5-7 years. The longer we talk about solutions, the less time we have for immediate action – and let’s face it, we don’t have time to spare.
This article was sponsored by Siemens Mobility.
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